Understanding Australia’s child custody laws

Understanding child custody can be complicated. Australian family law aims to promote deep meaningful relationships between parents and children.

In Australia, any divorce issues are handled within the Family Court of Australia. When it comes to matters regarding child custody, consideration of the child and protecting them is always the primary focus. Every child has the right to have meaningful relationships and experiences with their parents.

Because of the wide nature of parenting roles and the diverse combinations they can now come in, the 1975 Family Law Act (an official act from the Australian Parliament), does not make any assumptions regarding parenting roles and is gender-neutral. These guidelines also outline a number of other issues including property settlement during divorce.

Parental responsibility

Custody requirements can vary depending on the age of the child. Whenever a child is a minor, in other words they are under 18 years of age, each parent shares joint responsibility for the child. We call this principle equal shared parental responsibility. Both parents will be involved in making major long-term decisions for their child. These involved decisions encompass a large spectrum of life choices such as schooling, health, and religion.

Whenever possible, the family court will always aim to share parental responsibility. In some cases, this will not always be possible and the removal of parental responsibility from one or both parents can be done when the court decides it is in the best interest of the child.

Keep in mind that equally shared parental responsibility is not the same as spending equal time with your child. Common misconceptions about legal entitlements to equal contact between each parent frequently circulates. Additionally, parental responsibility for the children will apply regardless of whether the child’s parents were ever in a relationship, married, in a de-facto relationship, or in any other extenuating circumstance.

Parenting time

Contrary to popular opinion, there are no concrete rulings regarding the arrangements of which parent children should live and spend time with. Previously, custody or contact arrangements were made between each party. However, these terms are no longer used in Australian family law.

In most cases, each parent will discuss the child’s needs and will then come to an agreement about housing arrangements and dividing time spent between each. If both parents are able to come to agreeable terms, then you do not need to go to court. Parenting agreements can be prepared and drafted, then sent to court pending approval via a consent order.

These negotiations can increase in complexity depending on the current partnership status of the two parents. Whenever a child is born to an unmarried mother, the birthing mother is automatically granted sole custodianship. Unless a mutual arrangement can be met, the father does not have any legal right to see that child without a court order. As such, any father wishing to visit or establish custody of that child, should first establish paternity.

Best interests of the child

The focus of parents should be directed towards the best interest for their child. Courts do not like depriving parents of their rights unless they decide it is necessary, which also requires some grounding. When evaluating the custody and visitation arrangements of children, a number of important factors are considered.

The common factors that are considered include financial status, current residency and the moral character of each parent. If parents are able to soundly provide for their kids financially and with a safe and stable environment with love and respect, then their prospects for visitation or custody are bright.

Financial responsibility for children

Regardless of which parent the child lives with, each parent has the duty the financially support their children after separating. Parents usually manage these financial liabilities between themselves. Whenever circumstances prevent the monetary support of a child, the Department of Human Services can administer child support programs to assist parents to support their children. These services are administered after a child support assessment.

Children’s wellbeing

A divorce can be a difficult stressful period for both parents, but always heavily weighs on the children too. All current and ongoing actions should be focused on what is best for your children right now, while also thinking ahead.

Child custody can be complicated. Stay informed of your rights and seek qualified guidance and representation with the experienced family lawyers at O’Sullivan Legal.